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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I had to respond to "Tired in Tennessee," who was advised by a marriage counselor that she and her husband needed time for themselves, but complained that her mother never offered to baby-sit their two small sons.

My wife and I have three children, five years apart in age. We solved the problem by finding friends in the neighborhood who have children of similar ages. We take their kids for a week, and they reciprocate while my wife and I go on vacation. Taking care of six children isn't all that difficult. In some ways it's easier because each child has a playmate living in the house. The kids like it because they are not with strangers. I hope this helps. -- BEEN THERE IN OREGON

DEAR BEEN THERE: It's a sensible suggestion, and I'm sure it will be welcomed by more parents than "Tired in Tennessee." Read on:

DEAR ABBY: Why would anyone want Grandma to take responsibility for two young children if she isn't thrilled about it? My mother-in-law isn't speaking to me because I won't permit her to have my baby in her home. She has an unfenced pool, an explosive husband, and a proven inability to exercise good judgment. Bottom line: Don't expect what isn't offered.

In the meantime, paid help is the best help if you want to call the shots. Also, many nice resorts offer excellent kids' programs and bonded baby sitters for evenings out. You'll meet lots of other parents like yourselves making use of them. -- REALISTIC IN CALIFORNIA

DEAR REALISTIC: You're right; a paid professional is better than a reluctant relative.

DEAR ABBY: I understand both sides of the problem. I am an older grandmother in fairly good health. I love to baby-sit my grandkids over the weekends; however, sometimes I have moments of panic. I think, "What would happen should I become ill, or heaven forbid, I don't wake up in the morning? What would the kids do? Who would they call?" I didn't feel this way until I became a widow, but since then, I know it can happen. -- ARKANSAS GRANDMOTHER

DEAR ARKANSAS GRANDMOTHER: It's always wise to be prepared in an emergency. Even little children can learn to dial 911. Also, parents of minor children should leave medical permission papers in case of illness or accident.

DEAR ABBY: I could be that grandmother. The key words in her complaint were "active children." Translation: "brats."

When my daughter's family visits, the children are like wild animals. They won't eat at mealtime, but are in the refrigerator and cookie jar constantly. They jump on the furniture, break things and lie. They constantly beg to go shopping so Grandma can buy them a toy. They are an embarrassment in the store, and I no longer take them to a restaurant because they crawl under the tables and upset other diners.

One time I lost my temper and scolded them. My daughter became furious with me and didn't speak to me for several weeks. When they visit, I hold my breath, bite my tongue, and can't wait for them to go home. I am not about to volunteer to sit with these kids and put myself through such misery. I love my grandkids, but sometimes I don't like them -- and it is the fault of their parents, who never learned to say no to them. -- M. IN ARIZONA

DEAR M.: I agree. However, you're saying it to the wrong person. That comment should be made closer to home.

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